Arlen Specter saw the gravestone that awaited him in the elephant graveyard of the Republican Party and, like Scrooge with the Ghost of Christmas Future, chose another fate. The graveyard remains half empty, however; there’s plenty of room for the purposeless pachyderms of the once fundamental Republican state of Pennsylvania.
My Hoosier-born, railroader grandfather, John C. Batchelor, campaigned passionately for the GOP in suburban Philadelphia, in the 13th District of Montgomery County—from Hoover’s easy win in 1928 to Eisenhower’s confident win in 1956—and he taught me how to work for the party as early as 1952 when I used a sponge to seal envelopes for Ike’s campaign. I puzzle now how to explain to him what has happened in the 70 years since my grandfather took my dad to the Republican Convention in Philadelphia to nominate the vainglorious Wendell Willkie in June 1940.
“Win Pennsylvania, and you will dominate national policy; lose Pennsylvania, and you will struggle on the Hill.
Who lost Pennsylvania? This question would confound every Keystone State Republican boss from the Camerons of Bucks County, who delivered for Lincoln in 1860, and held the vote fast for 40 years, to Tom Ridge of Erie County, who was a phone call from being vice president in August 2000. Three times Robert E. Lee’s marauders charged up the Cumberland Valley to break the Union in half, and three times Pennsylvania held the line with body and heart. Since Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania has been the Republican crucible not only for vote-pulling but also for moneymaking and war-fighting. Win Pennsylvania, and you will dominate national policy; lose Pennsylvania, and you will struggle on the Hill.
Who lost Pennsylvania after Ronald Reagan’s twin sweeps? The Republican turncoats that surrendered the national party to Southern self-dealers such as the gifted huckster and shaman Newt Gingrich and the cunningly embittered Bush family of Texas.
It is a sober irony that the 1994 road to the majority on the Hill and then the Bush and Cheney White House in 2000 passed through the same provincial capitals that once launched Lee’s army into Pennsylvania and hosted the separatist cults of the Klan and the Dixiecrats that hollowed out the Democrats for 100 years. The loquacious Gingrich was born a Pennsylvanian in Harrisburg, and yet he has maintained for more than two decades quarrelsome policies about tolerance, charity, and labor that have alienated the voters of the Keystone State since 1988—as if he is either deaf or a willful vandal.The Bush family and their cardboard Rasputin, Karl Rove, have never regarded Pennsylvania at all—abandoning it to virile Bill Clinton and the comic Ross Perot in 1992 and shrugging it off as a Democratic henhouse ever since. The failure to put working-class hero Tom Ridge, governor and Vietnam War veteran and pro-choice Catholic, on the ticket in 2000 was Bush family cowardice, the product of an arch-Texas chauvinism and a fashionable Ivy League ennui.
Now that Arlen Specter is gone, broomed from the party by the Stars-and-Bars clique in the Senate cloakroom and on nostalgic talk radio, what is the future? The bullish Democrats are a long way from peaking. First up is to consider that John McCain will go, not as a Democrat but more likely as an independent like Horace Greeley at the end—a seer and crackpot of the GOP who went out wildly as a Democratic candidate for president in 1872. Olympia Snowe of Maine may follow as a defector for 2012, though by then the results from the 2010 cycle will make Snowe an aftertaste. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, George Voinovich of Ohio, and Sam Brownback of Kansas are confirmed retirees. A strong rumor is that erratic Jim Bunning of Kentucky is done. Kit Bond in Missouri is hanging it up, and Charlie Crist in Florida is hardly a cocky candidate. The 178 House Republicans are less threatened, but then they start with such reduced numbers that a surge will leave them enfeebled as compared to inert. The much mentioned Republican governors, led by Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Rick Perry of Texas, and Mark Sanford of South Carolina, are the Three Stooges of the base problem that the Republican Party is a frisky Dixie fraternity.
The Republican Party has abandoned Pennsylvania to the Democratic Party’s innocuous platitudes and a masterless servitude for the rest of the century. Arlen Specter isn’t tomorrow; he is a zombie like the rest of his deathless Senate gang who voted last October 1 for the TARP bailout of the zombie bankers and their liberty-strangling rope.
The Hank Paulson-engineered bailout of Wall Street, the Bush flight from his own presidency while the people’s wealth was stolen, the Obama-approved betrayal of the UAW, the congressional disgrace to shovel more of our future into a resuscitation of fox hunters, are all debates that have meaning to the voters from the Delaware Valley to the Cumberland Valley to the Susquehanna Valley. Where are the hearts that will make a stand at Little Round Top? The Keystone State will rally. Show yourselves. In response, the few Republicans who remember glory are either mute or distracted by the gossip of Lee’s colonels. The bugle blows retreat.
John Batchelor is radio host of the John Batchelor Show in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles.